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Commission to Look at Crowd Control Measures, Less-Lethal Weapons After Death During Red Sox Celebration

November 03, 2004
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Commission to Look at Crowd Control Measures, Less-Lethal Weapons After Death During Red Sox Celebration

By Denise Lavoie, The Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) - A commission investigating the death of a college student during a Red Sox celebration will look not only at what went wrong that night, but also at police crowd control methods and weapons like the one believed to have caused the student's death, the chairman of the panel said Wednesday.

Donald Stern, the former U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, was tapped last week by Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole to lead an independent investigation into the Oct. 21 death of Victoria Snelgrove.

Snelgrove, 21, died hours after being struck in the eye socket with a pepper-spray pellet fired by police as they tried to control a raucous crowd after the Red Sox won the American League pennant over their archrivals, the New York Yankees.

Stern said he met Tuesday with O'Toole to discuss the scope of the panel's investigation, which is separate from a police internal affairs probe and a review by the Suffolk District Attorney's office.

"It's going to be an independent commission capable of reaching independent judgments and getting access to whatever information the commission thinks it needs - period - with no limitations," Stern said.

"We do need to understand what happened that night, there's no question about it. But we also need to look at these larger issues. ... What is this weapon that was used? What about the whole concept of less-lethal weapons? What's out on the market? What has the training been for their use?"

Janice W. Howe, a former state prosecutor and an expert on product liability cases, will also sit on the commission. No other members have been chosen yet, but Stern said he expects another three or four people will be named soon.

The internal police investigation will examine whether police used excessive force and whether they were properly trained in the use of the FN303, a compressed-air gun made by FN Herstal.

The guns were purchased for this summer's Democratic National Convention, but the violence expected by police during political demonstrations never materialized. Police used the weapons for the first time the night Snelgrove was killed.

Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley's office will review the results of the police investigation and determine whether the use of force was legal and whether any criminal charges will be filed.

Media reports have raised questions about whether the police commander in charge of crowd control that night - Deputy Superintendent Robert O'Toole Jr. - and other officers had proper training.

FN Herstal has said that during training, officers are repeatedly told never to aim the gun at the neck or head. But at least two other fans besides Snelgrove were hit in the face by the pellets.

Kathleen O'Toole, who is not related to Robert O'Toole, said police are trying to get copies of videotape shot by local television stations to try to piece together exactly how police fired the weapons.

"I don't know whether they fired randomly or not - that's something we really need to look at," O'Toole said last week.

She said the guns were highly recommended by officers inside and outside the department as a non-lethal weapon used for crowd control.

Stern said there is no timetable for completion of the commission's investigation.

"I think everyone understands it will be useful to get this done sooner rather than later, but it also needs to be done right," he said.

"The whole reason to do this is to figure out what happened that very tragic night in a transparent way and to address any policy issues that arise out of this so this doesn't happen again."

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